Last July, the executive director of GOProud received a letter from the American Conservative Union informing the gay Republican organization that it would not be welcome “to participate in a formal role for CPAC events scheduled during the 2012 election cycle.”
On Wednesday night, as conservatives were arriving in Washington from around the country for CPAC, Jimmy LaSalvia and supporters toasted the expansion of GOProud’s office.
As guests chatted in the bright basement office on C Street, which was crisply decorated with political memorabilia, LaSalvia sat down with PJM to talk about his group’s headline-making journey with the Conservative Political Action Conference that began right after the group’s founding.
“One of the first things we did was sign up for CPAC in 2010 and there was a little bit of controversy around that,” he said. “But by 2011 everyone had heard about us, and certainly last CPAC was, well, everyone knows.”
The boycott by various conservative groups in the wake of GOProud’s co-sponsorship “really turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to us,” he said.
“We were a small, smart-up organization and the attention that we got last year when people like Andrew Breitbart and Donald Trump and just hundreds of — Ann Coulter — high-profile conservatives standing up for us helped to launch our organization,” LaSalvia said.
The July letter from Gregg Keller, national executive director of the ACU, invited GOProud members “to attend as individual registrants.” LaSalvia is passing on the offer.
“There are many people who are going to CPAC who are unhappy with the decision,” he said. “We’re just growing. The proof is in our success. People all over the country and across the conservative movement have stood up for us and realized that we’re an important part of the conservative movement.
“And so that’s what our focus will be on this year,” he said. “It won’t be at CPAC, but CPAC doesn’t get to decide who’s conservative and who’s not. They may think they do, but they don’t.”
Does LaSalvia consider bigotry to be behind the CPAC brush-off?
“I know that for two and a half years there were forces on the ACU board and at outside organizations that didn’t want us at CPAC because we’re gay — and for no other reason but that we’re gay,” he said. “And I know that that’s the truth, that’s the reality.”
Among the decorations in the new office was a jar into which staffers have to drop a buck if they say the words CPAC, Cleta or Log Cabin (LaSalvia and co-founder Christopher R. Barron used to work there before breaking off to found a gay Republican group further to the right). There were two dollar bills floating in the clear glass container.
Among the guests at the beer-and-wine soiree was Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist — a member of the ACU’s board of directors.
When asked about the contention of some conservatives that groups such as his push a “gay agenda,” LaSalvia said that his group’s mission is really about picking up where the right hasn’t done a great job: communicating why conservative principles are good for different constituencies.
“The issue is, why do gay people let the left determine what’s important to gay people?” he said. “What we talk about every single day is conservative policies that are good for everybody are good for gay Americans, too.”
It’s not identity politics when groups reach out to constituencies such as women or youths, LaSalvia said. “If you’re talking about policies that are good for everybody,” he said, “talk about them in the perspective of the person you’re trying to convince.”
“It’s important that we do outreach to everyone in America,” he added. “And it’s important for conservatives to do outreach to the gay community.”
The proof, LaSalvia stressed, is in voting trends. He cited statistics that in 2008 John McCain received 28 percent of the gay vote, and in the 2010 midterm elections Republicans scored 31 percent of the gay vote. He also said he frequently hears from gays who cast their vote for Obama and now regret it.
“Gay people are living in the Obama economy, too,” he said, and it’s a misconception that gay voters are one-note.
“The gay left hates gay conservatives and they paint us as being only concerned about our pocketbooks,” LaSalvia said. “The anti-gay right paint us as only being concerned about gay marriage. The truth is gay people are no different than anyone else in America.”
He urged Republicans to “get over whatever prejudices you have and let’s get together to elect a new president.”
“The problem is there are a very few people who just don’t like gay people,” LaSalvia said. “And they have caused the entire conservative movement to be painted with the perception that they just don’t like gay people.
“It takes all of us. It takes straight conservatives and gay conservatives standing up to those few people, to smoke them out and to expose that they just really don’t like gay people for the rest of the conservative movement to move on and get beyond this issue. ”
LaSalvia said that GOProud gets a warmer reception in America’s heartland, at Tea Party rallies or grass-roots events, than in the Congress just a few blocks down the street. “Grass-roots conservatives have gay people in their lives and they get it,” he said. “It just hasn’t trickled up to some people on the Hill yet.”
Along with the bigger office space, GOProud’s expansion includes the launch of a new website later this month.
“People have been joining us and now we’re in a place where we can have a real impact in 2012 during this important election,” LaSalvia said. “We represent gay conservatives and our straight allies, and we’re not going anywhere.
“We’re here to prove to everybody that gay conservatives exist,” he added, “and that we’re truly conservatives.”